Caroline Stockford: Manual for mourning a great poet

Hüseyin Özdemir, küçük İskender, 2006. Source: instagram.com/huseyinozdemir1

“Because life is the most tragic, most magnificent, most merciless trick death can play on us.”

küçük İskender, “Someone Call an Ambulance”

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When you first hear of his illness, you should be in the company of a genius journalist at seven at night and still at work. Upon going into the underwater world of shock, you should walk with said visiting journalist to the fountain that the ravens frequent in Vienna’s Volksgarten. Sit on a bench.  As you watch the cascades of crystal beads streaming from between stone wreathes and sculpted longing you might say,

“I can’t cry yet.”

You may regret not having published books with the great poet and letting him have his own way with the stage play you wrote as a canto of his lines.  But you didn’t finish it. Now, this is finishing it.

“When the question is asked: ‘Is there death, after life?'”

küçük İskender, “Necromantic”

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Mustajab VII: The Countryside Photography of Khaled Al Shoura

Blessed is he who lays a flower on a tomb or a palace or a breast, is he who is born in the seventh month or the twelfth, is the throat become gorge, is he who slaughters his only horse out of kindness. Blessed is he who sinks to his knees pleading forgiveness or overcome with lust, is he who bears a cross upon his back, is he who boils a porridge of cement to hoodwink his children’s hunger, is the sniffer become snout, is the time when a wife could gather together the pieces of her helpmeet’s corpse and he would live, are the truths cowering in the crevices of falsehood, is the nation that feeds on the chatter of the worthless, is the nation that feeds on the prattling of the powerful, is the gulp become gullet. Blessed is he who fashions an ear from clay and an ear from dough until his head is severed, is a sun that still rises in the East, is a star that shines through on a cloudy day. Blessed be this tale, which would not have be told of Mustajab VII were it not for that incident, revealed to the world by a wordsmith whose father laboured as a screenwriter, wherein Mustajab VII secretly murdered Mustajab VI, sold his body to students studying dissection and with the proceeds erected a sumptious pavilion replete with dazzling lights and microphones that resounded with proverbial wisdom, to outfox foes and keep in remembrance the glorious exploits of Clan Mustajab, ancient and modern, then stood at its entrance to receive the sincerest of condolences. This is a slander against the man, which lays the very heart of truth to waste and strikes at the crux of our tale, the point at which it joins with what took place thereafter, for which reason we set over this incident an upturned water jar, and kept it hid.


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Brad Fox Does the Holy Quran

Detail from Umayyad Quran, before AD 725. Source: nybooks.com

A couple of weeks ago, I shared a train compartment from Casablanca to Marrakech with a Moroccan transport engineer, a Dutch-Italian couple, and a professor of Islamic culture back from Saudi Arabia for his summer holiday. The professor was talkative, repeatedly offering to buy everyone coffee and sandwiches. In a combination of fusha and a bit of English he went on about how people needed to know that Islam is not al-Qaeda and Da’esh, but love and friendship. At one point he asked us if anyone objected to him reciting a bit of the Qur’an. No one did, so he closed his eyes, pressed his fingertips together, and began reciting, quietly, beautifully. Afterward he asked the Dutch-Italian couple if they could feel the beauty of the language. Then, in the same voice and incantatory style, he said (in fushaI am going to a new city. I will arrive and look for a restaurant and a place to sleep.  He turned to them and asked if that felt different, but they couldn’t understand the question, and no one translated it, so we never got an answer. 

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Ulayya bint al-Mahdi’s Epigram by Yasmine Seale

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Gustav Klimt,  Adele Bloch-Bauer I, 1907. Source: Wikipedia

To love two people is to have it 

coming: body nailed to beams,

dismemberment.

But loving one is like observing

religion.

I held out until fever 

broke me. 

How long can grass

brave fire?

If I did not have hope

that my heart’s master’s

heart might bend to mine, 

I would be stranded, no

closer to gate than home.

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Matthew Chovanec: On Its Own Fucked-up Terrain

Matthew Chovanec reviews Yasser Abdel Hafez’s The Book of Safety, for which Robin Moger won the Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize in 2017

Rohan Daniel Eason (copyright One Peace Books), from a children’s illustrated Kafka. Source: wired.com

Arabic novels are so frequently described as Kafkaesque or Orwellian that you’d be forgiven for thinking that the two authors were themselves Arab. It is a small wonder that noone has yet tried to uncover their secret Arab origins by etymologizing their names (قفقاء and الروال) in the way that the Turks have for Shakespeare. It is true that both of their names have become literary shorthand for a type of writing dealing with dystopia, oppressive bureaucracies, and the horrors of totalitarian society. It is also true that Arab societies have continued unabated to live through dystopias, oppressive bureaucracies, and the horrors of totalitarian society. But the label flattens out what is particular and new about so much excellent Arabic writing, and suggests that everything you need to know about the daily experience of living in a dysfunctional and cruel system can be captured by the term  “nightmarish”.

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55: Yasmine, Robin, Mohieddin

Poem 55 from a correspondence in translations of Ibn Arabi’s Tarjuman al-Ashwaq, between Yasmine Seale and Robin Moger. The first two translations are made independently and each subsequent rendering written after the other’s previous version has been sent and seen.

Khusraw discovers Shirin bathing in a pool from a 16th-century Khamsa by Nizami. Source: Wikipedia


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Y(i)

 

Distance, and desire ruins me. To meet

is no relief. Come or go, desire hardly cares.

 

Meeting him, unreckoned

things happen. In place of healing,

another ache of longing.

 

Because to meet him is to see

a person whose beauty grows

ever more abundant, proud.

 

All I can do is match my love’s ascent

To his loveliness on its measured scale.

 

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Robin Moger Does An-Nifarri

Adonis/Dennis Bouchard. From “A”, an exhibition retracing twenty years of visual works by the poet Adonis, Galerie Azzedine Alaïa, Paris, 2015. Source: worldliteraturetoday.org

who are you and who am I

he stayed me 

and he said to me   Who are you and who am I   and I saw the sun and the moon and the stars and all the lights ashine     and he said to me   There is no light in my sea shines on without I have seen it   and each thing came to me until no thing was left  and kissed me between my eyes and saluted me  and stood in shadow     and he said to me   You know me and  I do not know you   and I saw all of him clung to my robe  and not to me  and my robe leant  and I did not   and my robe leant and he said to me   Who am I   and the sun went down and the moon  and the stars fell and the lights were put out  and the dark covered all things but him   and my eye did not see and my ear did not hear  my senses ceased  and each thing spoke  it said   Allahu Akbar   and each thing came to me  a spear in its hand  it said to me   Flee   and I said   Where to   and it said   Fall into darkness   and into darkness I fell and I saw myself     and he said to me   See none but yourself ever   Come out from darkness never   And should I bring you out from it I would  show you myself   You would see me  and should you see me you would be  most distant of all

night

he stayed me 

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Robin Moger: From Ibn Arabi’s Turjuman al Ashwaq

I wish I knew

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Claudia Gerhard. Source: strkng.com

I wish I knew they knew what heart

they held. That my heart knew

what pass they tread. You wonder

Are they safe?

Or perished?

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The enamoured are

in love adrift

ensnared.

 

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This is Robin Moger’s version of the first poem in Turjuman al Ashwaq

Robin Moger: A New Poem by Mohab Nasr

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René Magritte, The Lovers. Paris, 1928. Source: moma.org

Life eternal might not be ours

but there’s what’s worse

that we are really forever

Music through earphones

casts no shadow

does not say to you when you must stop

nor through the earphones

signals No

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The Brimming Sea: More Ibn Arabi from Robin Moger

The Prophet Ilyas Rescues a Prince, from the Hamzanama, India, 1567-1572. Source: britishmuseum.org

Then the secret was there in my heart

and I was gone and my star set away

my heart by my lord’s secret changed and I

absented from the body’s feeling frame

wherefrom therewith I came

upon a ship of my high resolution

disposed therein my fortress thoughts

through a dark gulf of what I knew

unthought

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and on my ship my longing blew

as winds, and so it passed

an arrow’s passage through the sea

and across that sea Approach I cut

till I perceived unsecret what

was without name. You!

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I said, by my heart seen!

I loose an arrow at your love

for you are dear to me

and you are my festivity

the end of all my passion and my prize.

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Ibn Arabi’s original poem can be found here.

Marcia Lynx Qualey: A Review of the Newest Arabic Novel (Remix)

Arab Muscle Dancers, 1898, by B. W. Kilburn

Insert Title Here, by Our Arab Author, translated by So-and-so. Such-and-such publisher. $12.99.

What do you know about how people live in Cairo or Beirut or Riyadh? What bearing does such information have upon your life? We in the West hear about the Middle East all the time, but for most of us it remains unknown and unknowable. More complicated still is that, as I learnt at the weekend, forms like the novel and short story were alien to Arabic culture before the first decade of the 20th century: the genres are, themselves, imports.

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Writing the North African Experience: Interview with Youssef Rakha

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Centre for African Poetry: Let us begin by inviting you to humour our ignorance. The title of your 2011 novel is translated Book of the Sultan’s Seal, but we wonder which of the two names we have seen for it in Arabic is more accurate – khutbat al-kitab, or Kitab at Tughra?

Rakha: Kitab at Tughra is the title. Khutbat al-kitab means, literally, “Address of the book”; it’s a formulaic canonical phrase for “introduction” or “prologue”, which here and in old Arabic books doubles as a kind of table of contents; on the surface the novel is modelled on a medieval historical text. It may be worth mentioning in passing that the original sense of kitab, which is the Arabic word for “book”, means simply “letter” or “epistle”: every canonical book is addressed to a patron or a friend, and that’s an idea that is particularly meaningful to me.

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